A major evangelical university is remaining open amid ongoing concern about the coronavirus pandemic but most of its courses occurring on campus are being held online.
In an announcement posted to its website Monday, Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, said that given the state governor's emergency ban on public gatherings consisting of more than 100 people, most of the residential classes will be transferred to an online digital format beginning Monday.
“We originally believed it was safest to return our students following their spring break instead of having them return following greater exposure opportunities from leaving them in different parts of the country for longer periods," said Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University.
"But, the Governor’s recent decision to limit certain gatherings has left us no practical choice because we have so many classes of more than 100 students. We want to provide for the continuity of our students’ education while doing what makes sense to help slow the spread of the coronavirus to our university family and local community,” he said.
Should residential students opt to return to campus most will be able to stay where they are and complete their courses online, the announcement explained. Except for certain programs like aviation, osteopathic medicine and nursing, and particular performance classes, such as labs, the rest of the courses offered will be completed digitally throughout the spring term.
The announcement comes after a petition, signed by approximately 10,000 people asking the university administration to extend spring break and move classes online, was generated in response to some of Falwell's earlier comments. Falwell previously expressed that he thought people were overreacting to the scope of the virus and suggested that the extensive press coverage on the subject was an attempt to undermine President Donald Trump politically, likening it to the recent impeachment and the Mueller report.
“I don’t want to become one of these college presidents who are pushing this problem off on someone else by sending 20 year olds with near zero mortality risk to sit at home for the rest of the semester, often with grandparents in the house who truly are at risk,” Falwell tweeted on Sunday.
A concerned parent reply-tweeted back: "So in 7 weeks, you'll send the thousands of students, who now have a HIGHER risk of carrying it, back to their grandparents to get it. I'm as right wing as they get, bud. But as a parent of three of your students, I think this is crazy, irresponsible and seems like a money grab."
Falwell replied, "Nope, then they'll go off to summer jobs or internships dummy."
Regent University, another evangelical university in Virginia, has also transitioned to online classes in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. No known cases of the virus have been found on the Virginia Beach campus. University housing is closing this Friday and students are being asked to remove their personal belongings as soon as possible.
"Please keep the elderly and the others at high risk with this virus in your prayers,” Falwell added in the LU Monday statement.
“Liberty is taking into account the sometimes conflicting orders and guidance of government officials and public health experts regarding higher education and our unique population. As this dynamic situation changes again, the university will continue to reassess.”
Whether the commencement ceremony will take place in early May has yet to be determined.